#41 Orange on Migration in London

The lost generation

After the fall of the Communism regime, Bulgaria has lost approximately 15% of its population in only two decades. Nowadays they are Diasporas not only in every European country, but also in most of the cities. The communities grew over time and created their own cultural societies. Bulgarian migrants have learnt the languages, adopted the cultural, and blended into the host societies.

Their children are foreign citizens, most of them don’t speak the language and the mere association that they have with Bulgaria will be with some traditions and holiday traveling. The whole generation has been lost.

London as a great multi-cultural capital of Europe was one of the main target destinations. Growing up in a post-communist country, the young generation were seeking a chance for a better life. The Western movies created the image of Great Britain almost a fairy-tale Kingdom, where if you are motivated and hardworking, the opportunities will follow. Although Bulgaria has always been part of the European continent, the country has become full member of the European Union merely in 2007. For many young immigrants before that, moving to the UK was a significant challenge.

Teodor was one of these immigrants. He was born in the city of Yambol in Bulgaria. During the Communism this was an industrial city and location of a military base. After the changes the factories were privatized and the army number was significantly reduced. Yambol nowadays is a small city, where the only income comes from the small range of services.

Teodor’s family initially owned 3 shops, then 2 and after the closing of the last one, his parents decided that it is about time to emigrate from the country. His father moved to England as self-employed and entered the construction business. Teodor had to make rather tough choice. He either had to graduate from high school like all of his classmates and stay in Bulgaria, or move to England where he is still dependent on his father and underage.

“I was hoping to complete my secondary education in the UK, however I was told that I can’t do that because Bulgaria wasn’t part of the EU back then in 2003. It was a shock of the difference in the social systems, because people in Bulgaria we were thinking that life here is easy, maybe as almost easy as in America – to get the education, to get a job, to have a future.  But in reality what happened was that I wasn’t given even the opportunity to go to school because the fees were so high – I had to pay about 4000 pounds every year! I simply couldn’t afford it.”

The alternative for him was to find a job.  For a person who hasn’t graduated from high school and didn’t know the language fluently this was a tremendous challenge. He had to start with a cleaning job.

“I had to mature pretty quickly. I was told that I should work something so low. My dreams were shattered that this is not a country where you can get easy access to education or progress into your career. I stayed only because I knew that the things in my country will not improve.”

He realized that the key to success is to learn the language and adapt as fast as possible.

“I was absorbing everything that I could see or hear, the accent, the culture, the gestures and what interested people here, because it is so much more different from Eastern Europe. This is material world where how much you earn what car you drive is much more appreciated than the abstract idea about culture and art.”

He was studying English on his own and a year later he improved enough to start a new job as a customer assistant on a train station, where he worked for the following 5 years. Now that the job was secured, he had to face a new problem. Applying for university without completed secondary education was quite problematic.

“The selection process is mainly for people that come from English school system which means that for people such as me there is a real challenge to find out what the requirements are.”

It took him 5 years to collect the necessary money and educational qualification in order to be accepted as a full-time student in British University.

Now when he is back to Bulgaria for a holiday Teodor tends to compare the two countries. He believes that the key for development should be grounded on people’s attitude.

“Bulgarian perception is very negative about our own development. They are some visible things like new buildings and companies, but if you are familiar with the country there is still this mentality of that we will not get anywhere. British, in contrary, are much more constructive.”

Teodor has become a British citizen after making the compulsory “Live in the UK” test of English language and history and take an oath of allegiance to the Queen. His life in London shaped his new identity.

“I feel that my experience in the UK changed the way I think. For me to understand the culture I had to become part of it. It was a necessary transformation. Now I feel British citizen and I feel Londoner. This has become my home.”

Today Teodor is part of two rather different generations. In the UK he has become part of the so-called “New Londoners”, which refers to migrants who lived there for 10 years or so. He is planning to stay and live in the English capital. For Bulgaria Teodor has become part of the “Lost generation”.

By: Dobriyana Tropankeva

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